My knowledge of Vietnam did not go beyond the facts I had read in textbooks or on the internet. But I wanted to know more about this socialist republic that fought seminal wars against two global powers in the twentieth century, and a country which is now one of our top competitors.
I was skeptical when a friend suggested the Netflix series "The Vietnam War", yet I got hooked on it after watching the first episode, and ended up watching all 10 of them.
Written by Geoffrey C Ward, and directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, this documentary comes with repeated warnings of watching history through an American perception.
The narrator addressed the war with bold, critical, yet satirical descriptions like – "It was begun in good faith by decent people out of fateful misunderstandings, American over-confidence and Cold War miscalculation."
The episodes in the series did not just uncritically show some rare images and footages from that era. Rather, they involved accounts of personnel who had lived through that time, either in the war field or at home.
Meticulously filled with information and vivid images of the war, it is overwhelming to watch more than one episode at a time.
The first person descriptions from military members, survivors, anti-war protesters, families and politicians added varied perspectives to the story and visualized the gruesomeness of the Vietnam War.
In one episode a sister shared her experience of losing her brother in the war. She later joined anti-war protests because in her words "I respect my brother for who he was, but I cannot support him."
To maintain neutrality, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick also added narratives of Vietnamese citizens. Although this take was commendable, it felt as if these voices resonated with American history and views, rather than Vietnamese ones.
"The Vietnam War" focused on the increasing unrest inside America following the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Martin Luther King Junior.
At the same time, it left scope for criticism by bringing out Madame Nhu, the notorious Vietnamese political consort, who referred to the Buddhist monks' protest of burning themselves to death as the "monk barbecue show".
The documentary did not end abruptly with America's withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, it continued to detail what happened to war prisoners and the Vietnamese people's struggle after victory.
However, after watching the episodes, I felt that notions of patriotism, war and masculinity, and western leaders' paranoia over communist invasion – all of these probably contributed to the debacle Americans faced at home.
For example, according to one of the American soldiers, they were taught to see the Vietnamese as anything but human beings to justify killing them.
During those times, working class African-Americans were manipulated and forced to go to war to prove their patriotism.
The war had to end eventually and so did the documentary. The authenticity of the footages and narratives from survivors deserve applause, and so does the background music.
The series, which turned out to be more than a portrayal of historical events or a war, also gave me perspective on the nature of rulers.